Op. 21, in C Major
composed in 1800
Premiere: April  2, 1800
at the m Burgtheater in Vienna
dedicated to Baron Gottfried van Swieten
published in Leipzig in 1801


Beethoven around 1800/1801

Beethoven's Development towards his Readiness for the Composition of his First Symphony
Creation History of the First Symphony
On the Musical Structure of the First Symphony
(from: F.E. Kirby, An Introduction to Western Music)
On the Premiere of the First Symphony
The Further Fate of the Work up to its Publication
On the Further Fate of the Work during Beethoven's Lifetime
Closing Remarks


In our brief journey through the history of the development of the Symphony up to Beethoven we learned that, while it developed into the most important genre of instrumental music, since Beethoven, it was also regarded as the highest and most   form of instrumental composition.  

From our look at this history, we also know that Haydn and Mozart, building on the achievements of many important symphonic composer of the 18th century, elevated this compositional genre to such a degree that, at the end of the 18th century, it emerged as the most important compositional genre of instrumental music.

From Grove's statement that, since Beethoven's time, it was also regarded as the highest and most important form of  of instrumental music, we can not draw any other conclusion that he, building on Mozart and Haydn, made a vital contribution to this development.  

While we may have a general idea that Beethoven's development towards his contribution to the history of the symphony did not begin as late as with his composition of his First Symphony, we seldom take a  closer look at this development.  Perhaps it might be helpful to do that here, now, while it might also be interesting to accompany Beethoven on his path, from our today's viewpoint. 


Beethoven's Development towards his Composition of his First Symphony

From our Biographical Pages we know that Beethoven began under Neefe to try his hand at composition and that he also did so in a few genres of instrumental music such as piano variations, piano sonatas and further genres, however, not in that of the symphony, yet.  

We also know that Neefe did not consider himself as fully trained in the art of counterpoint and that Beethoven studied it, first under Haydn, then under Albrechtsberger, during his Vienna study years, from November 1792 to March, 1795. 

Would we have to conclude from that that, before the completion of his counterpoint studies, he had not ventured into any attempts at symphonic composition?  We would have to come to the conclusion that, without any outside stimulation in form of an extraordinary composer and without any motivation from within that might have been based on important personal experiences in Beethoven, we would have to answer this question with "yes".  


Mozart in 1788

However, from our Biographical Pages we know that, in April, 1787, he journeyed to Vienna, very likely in order to receive musical training from Mozart.   We also know how short his stay there was and why.  Rather than entertaining our own hunches, we should, perhaps, consult the Beethoven scholar Barry Cooper on this point:  

"Whether Beethoven gained much from his brief encounter with Mozart is uncertain.  Did he resolve to write a grand symphony, a new piano concerto, as a result of the meeting:  And what about Mozart?  Was his next work, the String Quintet in G minor (K. 516, completed in May), written in an ultra-serious vein due to his encounter with this earnest, forceful youth; and did he venture into the remote key of E flat minor in both the first and third movements of the quintet after being struck by Beethoven's impressive quartet movement in that key?  Whatever their cause, all these effects can certainly be observed.

The new symphony was to be in C minor, the same key as the Dressler Variations.  (If Rovantini was commemorated in the variations, then surely nothing less than a symphony would suffice for Beethoven's own mother.) All that survives is a single draft on two staves, headed 'Sinfonia' and 'presto', which progresses till nearly the end of the exposition before petering out into short sketches.(13)  [(13) 'Kafka' Miscellany (SV 185), f. 70.  See Kerman ed., Miscellany, ii. 175-6, for a complete transcription.] Its date is uncertain, but the handwriting is in a transitional form that strongly suggests it comes from this dark age between 1786 and 1790.(14)" (Cooper:  22 - 23).

With respect to the dating of this draft, Cooper refers to Johnson, Beethoven's Early Sketches, i. 222:.

"Beethoven's piano quartet movement in E flat minor was still very much in his mind when he began this symphony, for the first nine notes of its opening theme are identical apart from their key.  This is the first of many cases where he effectively discarded an earlier work, and then used it as a repository of material for new ones (the C major Quartet, WoO 36 No. 3, was to be used in a similar way).  Beethoven evidently realized that the quartet as a whole was too close to Mozart to permit publication, and yet it contained some music that was too good to be wasted.

What is striking about the quartet movement and the symphony draft is the way the same opening theme is subsequently handled.  As a genre, the symphony had developed into a grand, public form in which, especially with the Mannheim school of composers, the emphasis was on continual development and transition, even within the exposition, so as to create a broad sweep in the music; the sonata and quartet, by contrast, tended to concentrate on building a series of small motifs connected much more loosely.  The movement in E flat minor was actually the most 'symphonic' among Beethoven's childhood works (which is probably why he chose it as the basis for his first symphony draft), but the development of the main theme is much tighter and more rigorous still in the symphony draft.  During the transition before the second subject, for example, the main theme (Ex. 2.2a) is fragmented, developed, heard in sequence, and thoroughly 'explored' (Ex 2.2b) in a manner that was to become so characteristic of the Beethoven style.  Even in the contrasting second subject, which makes use of a descending scalic figure, the arpeggio shape of the first subject is very conspicuous in augmentation in the bass line, heightening the sense of continuity and unity.  The cohesion and the skill at motivic development evident here show a remarkable advance on his earlier music, and if the movement was ever completed, it must have seemed an outstanding achievement to those in the Bonn court."  

Listen to a midi file of this work at the 'The Unheard Beethoven' web site and read the introductory comment to it!

That Beethoven, after the conclusion of his counterpoint studies with Haydn and Albrechtsberger, in the spring of 1795, did not wait very long with taking further attempts at symphonic composition should not be surprising if we consider his pre-contrapuntal symphonic attempt, although they would, at least for the time, remain attempts and not result in a complete symphony, yet.  With respect to this, Barry Cooper, on the one hand, reports that during his stay in Berlin in the year 1796, Beethoven   "also expended much effort on the Symphony in C major that he had been sketching the previous year"   (Cooper: 67).  Cooper's source for his statement is, again, Johnson, Beethoven's Early Sketches, i. 461-9, while he, however, rejects Johnson's hunch that Beethoven wanted to stage this work in Berlin and that he abandoned it when these plans did not materialize.  Cooper further comments on Beethoven's attempt:  

"This was his most substantial composition to date, although it is among the least familiar. He had already drafted a complete slow introduction and exposition for the first movement while in Vienna, and had even begun a full score; he then  took the sketches with him to Berlin and continued working on the symphony when not occupied with other compositions. Progress remained slow and deliberate, however, and he made very substantial changes in Berlin. Instead of continuing with his full score and sketching the rest of the movement, he went back to the beginning, making at least three more drafts for the introduction and two for the exposition on paper acquired in Berlin. The introduction drafts contain almost entirely new material, while the exposition drafts differ radically from earlier ones in some places. He could not have afforded such slow progress and so much retracing of his steps if he were trying to complete the work in a matter of weeks for a performance deadline in Berlin. Thus it must be concluded that the symphony was being composed as a result of ambition rather than commission--ambition to conquer the greatest instrumental genre of all. Although the symphony remained unfinished in this form, it was one of his most significant creations of the 1790's in terms of his development as a composer and the amount of effort expended, and it came tantalisingly close to completion.

In the later sketches the main theme of the Allegro uses a rapid scale (Ex. 5.3) which, as often noted, was eventually used in the finale of his First Symphony. The introduction at one stage began with the rising figure C-E-A-D played as a series of detached chords, but in the latest sketches these are joined together to form a scale that staggers slowly upwards (Ex. 5.4), foreshadowing but contrasting with the main Allegro theme. Shortly before the second subject, in G, there is a sudden modulation to E flat major (a procedure already used in the C major piano concerto), with the melody again based on a rising scale; and towards the end of the exposition there is a brief excursion to A flat major, recalling a similar modulation in the introduction. Thus the exposition combines tonal variety with much motivic cohesion; but even in the latest sketches it still seems somewhat bland and diffuse in places, and in need of further work.

Sketches also survive of parts of the development and most of the coda, indicating that Beethoven may well have completed the movement (since surviving sketches often represent only a small part of the total amount of sketching done). This hypothesis is supported by the survival of an extended draft summarizing the whole of an ensuing slow movement, since Beethoven normally worked on movements in the intended order of performance. This Andante draft is in E major, like the slow movement of the C major Piano Sonata (Op. 2 No. 3) completed the previous year, thus demonstrating Beethoven's continuing interest in the relationship between these two keys (an interest that re-emerged in several later works). However, he then added an instruction to transpose the Andante to F major, and jotted down a few more sketches for this version. He also wrote an extended draft for a minuet and trio, and some brief ideas for the finale, all on paper from Berlin. Thus by the time he left Berlin he had all the main ingredients for the first three movements, needing only to polish them up and to solve the problem of what do do in the finale. These matters continued to occupy him after his return to Vienna" (Cooper: 67)

(The excellent web site, "The Unheard Beethoven", in turn, offers information with respect to two mid files of a long movement in E-Major for a symphony, whereby the question is raised as to whether this draft might not have been written in 1796. Read this comment ans listen to Beethoven's original version of this symphonic draft!)

Returning to Cooper's conclusion and his sources mentioned with respect to Beethoven's attempts at symphonic composition from the years 1795 - 1796, we see Beethoven, after his return to Vienna from his 1796 journey to Berlin, facing the problem of finding a solution for a last movement to this planned symphony.  However, since these drafts of Beethoven did not lead to a complete symphony, at that time, we would have to conclude that he could not find a solution for this problem, at that time.  

However, we should not venture into vain attempts at 'making logical sense' from our lay perspective as to Beethoven's further development during the years of 1797 - 1799 and the place which his striving for such a "symphonic solution" might have had in it. 

Let us, rather, briefly, simply and in our own minds, consider his personal life circumstances and subsequently pick up the thread of his further "symphonic" development, where it, from a chronological viewpoint, offers itself to us, again.  

Our Biographical Pages offer us, on the one hand, a look at the young composer and piano virtuoso, but also of that Beethoven who, during this period, must have increasingly become aware of his gradual loss of hearing.  It is the combination of both elements within one artist that leads us to his renewed symphonic activitiy, during the last two years of the 18th century.  


Creation History of the First Symphony

With respect to this, Cooper writes:  

"Beethoven's compositional development in the last two years of the eighteenth century was dominated by his first achievements in what he regarded as the two noblest and most elevated forms of instrumental music--the string quartet and the symphony.  These two genres had been raised to pre-eminence by Haydn above all.  . . .  Meanwhile the symphony, as mentioned earlier, had become a grand, public display of compositional craft in which motivic development and continuity on a large scale were prime elements.  Thus a serious composer such as Beethoven could not approach either genre without due preparation if he hoped to succeed at the highest artistic level rather than produce mere works of entertainment.  Here it was a question of inheriting Haydn's spirit more than Mozart's (although the situation is complicated by the fact that Mozart's later quartets and symphonies were partly inspired by Haydn's example.)  All Beethoven's major instrumental works of the earlier 1790s can be seen as part of that preparation; so too can his contrapuntal exercises for string quartet (Hess 30-1) written under Albrechtsberger's tutelage, and his symphony sketches of 1795-7.  By mid-1800 both genres had finally been mastered, with the six quartets of Op. 18 and the First Symphony, although actual publication of the works was at least a year later.  Beethoven once reportedly stated that he had never learned an enormous amount from Haydn; but these works demonstrate that he had certainly learned an enormous amount from Haydn's music" (Cooper: 78)

In search for an answer to the question as to when and how Beethoven took up symphonic composition, again, we refer, once more, to Cooper's report of Beethoven's compositional attempts of the years 1795 - 1797, according to which he, unfortunately, did not find a solution to the problem of a suitable idea for the last movement to his proposed symphony, after his return to Vienna.  With respect to his outward motivation for these attempts, we can also point out that he might have been spurned on by Baron van Swieten  (Thayer: 216 - 217).


Baron van Swieten

Focusing on Beethoven's new attempts at symphonic composition, we can refer to Cooper who reports that, in the late fall of 1799, Beethoven mainly concentrated on his Septet, Op. 20, his Variations to  'Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen' (WoO75) and on the supervision of the printing of further variations (WoO76) and of three piano sonatas that he had already composed, namely his Pathethique, Op. 13, and his two Sonatas, Op. 14 in E Major and G Major, while, as Cooper further argues, there must have, very likely, also existed a sketch book from this period in which his drafts for the Septet and for his First Symphony could be found.  Unfortunately, this sketch book has not been preserved  (Cooper: 82).

Cooper further reports that the Septet was first staged on December 20, 1799.  In one of the lesser-known letters written by Josephine von Deym, she is reported as having written that her brother Franz was among the audience on that occasion and that Schuppanzigh had participated in it, and that her brother 'was transported by it, especially by a septet composed by Beethoven which must have been the non plus ultra as much for the performance as for the composition' (Cooper: 87).

Immediately after the completion of the Septet, Beethoven, reports Cooper, returned to working on his C Major Symphony and appears to have been resolved to complete it fairly quickly, now.  With respect to the previous 'main obstacle', namely with respect to a suitable last movement, we might want to quote Cooper directly:  

"One of his main problems with the symphony in 1796 - 7--perhaps the chief stumbling-block--had been the finale (see Chapter 5 above), which needed to have sufficient weight to round off the symphony, while retaining the traditional element of tunefulness. Now, from around the end of 1799 (the exact date is uncertain, for no sketches survive from this period), he found the solution: of the ideas sketched already, he must have concluded that by far the best for a finale theme was the one he had already used up in the first movement! Thus he felt obliged to transfer this theme from the first movement to the last, and compose the rest from scratch. With this stroke of genius he overcame the impasse, and his work on the First Symphony then progressed with extraordinary rapidity.

The transfer of this theme from first movement to finale had two further repercussions. Firstly, the finale acquired something of the weightiness customarily associated with the opening movement, thus providing an important step in a shift in symphonic writing towards a more end-orientated structure (a shift that reached its apogee in the Ninth Symphony). Secondly, the rest of the Symphony had to be constructed around a pre-existing finale for the first movement. Thus the rising scale at the start of the finale theme had to be subtly prepared in the preceding movements, in such a way that it seemed a natural outgrowth and culmination of them.

.  .  .   

Beethoven probably wrote the symphony during the winter of 1799 - 1800 in the hope of obtaining a date for a benefit concert the following spring at the Bugtheater or Kärntnertor Theatre (other possible venues were less suitable for various reasons).  Such dates were allocated by the court theatre director Baron Peter von Braun, but were generally reserved for opera except during Holy Week; Beethoven had not managed to obtain one in previous years.  However, he had just dedicated his Sonatas, Op. 14 to the Baron's wife Josephine, and this action must have improved his chances" (Cooper: 87 - 92).

Before we turn to details of the premiere of this work and of its further fate during Beethoven's life time, we might wish to familiarize ourselves with its structure.


On the Musical Structure of the First Symphony

With respect to this, we might consult the following overview: 

F.E. Kirby, An Introduction to Western Music.
Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Stravinsky
in bezug auf die Erste Symphonie (p. 203 - 214):

"As a whole, the work is much along the lines of a symphony by Haydn or Mozart.  Scorred for an orchestra, consisting of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, along with timpani and strings, the symphony consists of four movements, an Allegro con brio preceeded by a slow introduction (Adagio molto), an Andante cantabile con moto in F major, a Minuetto  (Allegro molto e vivace) and Trio, both in C major, and as finale, an Allegro molto e vivace preceded by a very short Adagio.

In the first movement we find the sonata form with an elaborate slow introduction and a coda.  In the exposition, great importance attaches to the principal theme; it is triadic, uses mainly notes that belong to a triad, and it is motivic, compounded of short and highly characteristic figures or motives in which rhythm, repetition, and scaccato articulation play an important part. ... Both these qualities, the triadic and the motivic, are common in the principal themes in the instrumental music of the time.  The theme is first presented softly, in C jamor, then in D minor, finally in the dominant of C major (G major) but fortissimo and in a varied form in which its motivic character is fully brought out.  This leads directly to the modulatory passage, or bridge, in which three themes, motives, or ideas are introduced:  the first (bars 21-29), fast and triadic with alternation between the violins and the woodwinds (flute, clarinet, and bassoon), then repeated in an embellished version; the second (bars 29 - 33), based on the principal theme and modulating to G major; and the third (bars 33 - 40), establishing the new key with resounding chords accompanied by a scale figure tossed between the lower strings and the woodwinds.  There then follows the secondary theme or theme group which likewise consists of three elements and a closing theme.  Toward the end the principal theme is heard again, thus rounding off the exposition.

In the development Beethoven works primarily with the principal theme and a portion of the secondary theme.  At the outset the two are heard in alternation.  There then ensures a passage dominated by a triadic figure that is related to the principal theme, which also moves through various keys.  This is followed by a passage based on part of the bridge theme.  The principal theme--or, rather, its characteristic motive in dotted rhythm--then reappears and dominates the remainder of the development, eventually reaching a fortissimo climax in E minor that moves to the recapitulation.  This, unlike the exposition, begins loud.  The thematic material of the exposition is restated with some modification in the recapitulation, and there is a brief coda.

The movement serves as a good example of the sonata form as it had developed by the end of the eighteenth century.  Variety and contrast are present in abundance.  Yet the principal theme, as the theme in the main or principal key, is also the dominant theme:  Its central motive produces most of the movement, and against it the other themes make a contrast. At the same time, there is no one central character that is maintained, nor even any particular emotional quality or affection that one could say is expressed, unless one wishes to employ epithets like "strong," "forthright," "jovial," "direct," and so on.

In the second movement, Andante, in F major (subdominant relation to C major) we find another example of the sonata form.  The principal theme begins fugally, but the contrapuntal imitation is dropped and the texture becomes homophonic once all the voice parts have entered.  The modulatory passage is a continuation of the principal theme; there are two secondary themes and a closing theme, the latter characterized by a dotted-rhythm pattern in the accompaniment.  The development works only with the upbeat pattern from the principal theme and the first part of the secondary theme, to the accompaniment of the dotted rhythm from the closing section.  The keys involved are the flat keys: C minor, D-flat major, B-flat major, and then to C major, which leads to the recapitulation.  This is regular, except that the fugal presentation of the principal theme is accompanies by sixteenth-note scale figurations.  The coda is based on the principal theme, but introduces toward the end the dotted rhythm characteristic of the closing theme.

The third movement in this symphony, as in most symphonies of the time, consists of a minuet followed by a second minuet, called the trio, after which the first minuet is repeated, thus making a da capo structure.  Sometimes, as in this symphony, both minuet and trio are in the same key; more often they are in different, but related keys.  Both minuet and trio are in the rounded binary form characteristic of the dance of the eighteenth century, and hence they represent the most obvious remnant of the old Baroque suite in the new instrumental music.  But here the basic rounded binary scheme is varied by greatly extending the recapitulation of the first part so that the form as employed here must be thought of as

||:  a  :||   ||:  b  a'  :||.

The minuet proper is characterized by an upward-driging stepwise line, staccato, thrust forward by an upbeat, with chromatic elements and driving rhythms.  The passage embodies an intensification; the strings carry the melodic drive, which rises and in so doing makes a crescendo, whose top is reinforced by the woodwinds, brass, and percussion.  In the second part of the minuet a descending motive of three notes is important, as are dynamic contrasts.  Here the modulations pass through the "flat" keys to D-flat major; a crescendo moving through chromatic harmonies and powered by incessant rhythms leads to the repeat of the first part, which is enlarged.  In the trio tow principal elements appear:  the repeated chords in the woodwinds and horn and the rapid scale passages in the violins.  Thematically, then, the trio embodies a strong contrast to the minuet proper.  

As finale there is a piece in sonata form preceeded by a short introduction.  This introduction is a sort of musical joke of the type associated with Haydn, since melodically it involves successive attempts to ascend the scale, beginning with G, each time adding more notes until finally the scale is complete, whereupon it suddenly is played fast and immediately goes off into the principal theme of the movement.  This principal theme differs markedly from that of the first movement:  It is not so pronouncedly motivic, and its phrase structure displays a repetitive organization--a first part (bars 6-14) consisting of a four-bar period played twice and a second part (bars 14-30) consisting of a eight-bar period played twice, first by the violins and then by the bassoons.  In the first part the harmonic progression is characteristic:  The tonic of the dominant (bars 18-14).  The second part of the theme features a descending series of staccato repeated notes accompanies by ascending scale segments.  For the thematic development to follow, the most important elements are the upbeat ascending scale passage of the first part and the repeated-note motive in the second part.  The modulatory passage is also in two parts.  A sudden diminuendo leads to the first part of the secondary theme, where the melodic interest--a short-breathed melodic line with many rests--is in the violins.  The closing theme is loud and features first rapid alternation between the strings and the wind instruments and then recalls the rapid ascending scale figure of the principal theme.  In the development, as already indicated, it is the principal theme that is exploited the most, particularly this ascending scale figure, which appears in combination with the repeated-note figure of the second half of the principal theme; it also appears both in its regular form and in inversion and then accompanied by the closing theme.  A statement of the modulatory theme is followed by another of the scale figure from the principal theme which brings the recapitulation.  A coda based on both parts of the principal theme forms the conclusion.

There is, then, no overall consistency of character in this symphony.  Its overall form depends on the contrast among the various movements, and out of this carefully arranged interplay of contrasting characters emerges the balanced unity of the work as a whole.  This can be regarded as the typical "Classic" aesthetic--the "harmony" of the work as a whole--i.e., its unity is the result of the reconciliation of opposites or of opposing characters.  The most weighty movement is the first, and it is here that the sonata from with its  thematic development is displayed most impressively.  Then comes the lyrical slow movement, followed by the dance, a minuet, with a brilliant light finale to bring the piece to an end.  Generally speaking, this represents the symphony as it stood at the end of the eighteenth century.  This provided Beethoven's point of departure."

Did you note the difference in weight that Kirby and Cooper accord to the first (Kirby) and last (Cooper) movement of this symphony?  Why don't you listen to the midi files of all four movements and form your own opinion?  The back button of your browser will bring you back here for the next section of our overview.  

Classical MIDI Connection
(The Beethoven Connection)


On the Premiere of the First Symphony

After our look at the structure of this symphony and after, perhaps, having listened to a CD recording or to the midi files connected to here via our above link, we might be very ready to follow Beethoven, at least in our minds, to the premier of this work.  With respect to it, Cooper reports that Count Browne had granted him the 2nd of April, 1800, at the Burgtheater.  

With respect to this premiere concert, Thayer reports that only two documents have been preserved, namely the announcement in the programme and an announcement in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung.  The programme which was later found in the possession of the widow of Carl van Beethoven, reads as follows: 

"To-day, Wednesday, April 2nd, 1800, Herr Ludwig van Beethoven will have the honor to give a grand concert for his benefit in the Royal Imperial Court Theatre beside the Burg.  The pieces which will be performed are the following:

1. A grand symphony by the late Kapellmeister Mozart.

2. An aria from "The Creation" by the Princely Kapellmeister Herr Haydn, sung by Mlle. Saal.

3. A grand Concerto for the pianoforte, played and composed by Herr Ludwig van beethoven.

5. A duet from Haydn's "Creation", sung by Herr and Mlle. Saal.

6. Herr Ludwig van Beethoven will improvise on the pianoforte.

7. A new grand symphony with complete orchestra, composed by Herr Ludwig van Beethoven.

Tickets for boxes and stalls are to be had of Herr van Beethoven at his lodgings in the Tiefen Graben, No. 241, third story, and of the box-keeper.

Prices of admission are as usual.

The beginning is a half-past 6 o'clock" (Thayer: 255).

Thayer also notes that this was Beethoven's first concert in Vienna for his own benefit.  


Vienna's Burgtheater during Beethoven's times

The correspondent of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung described this concert as follows:  

"Endlich bekam jedoch auch Herr  B e e t h o v e n  das Theater einmal, und dies war wahrlich die interessanteste Akademie seit langer Zeit.  Er spielte ein neues Konzert von seiner Komposition, das sehr viel Schönheiten hat -- besonders die zwey ersten Sätze.  Dann wurde ein Septett von ihm gegeben, das mit sehr viel Geschmack und Empfindung geschrieben ist.  Es phantasirte dann meisterhaft, und am Ende wurde eine Symphonie von seiner Komposition aufgeführt, worin sehr viel Kunst, Neuheit und Reichtum an Ideen war; nur waren die Blasinstrumente gar zu viel angewendet, so daß sie mehr Harmonie, als ganze Orchestermusik war.  Vielleicht können wir  etwas Gutes schaffen, wenn wir von dieser Akademie noch Folgendes Anmerken.  Es zeichnete sich dabey das Orchester der italienischen Oper sehr zu seinem Nachtheile aus.  Erst -- Direktorialstreitigkeiten!  B e e t h o v e n  glaubte mit Recht, die Direktion, nicht Herrn  C o n t i, und niemand besser, als Herrn  W r a n i t z k y anvertrauen zu können.  Unter diesem wollten die Herren nicht spielen.  Die oben gerügten Fehler dieses Orchesters werden sodann hier desto auffallender, da b's Komposition schwer zu exekutiren ist.  Im Akkompagniren nahmen sie sich nicht die Mühe auf den Solospieler acht zu haben; von Delikatesse im Akkompagnement, vom Nachgeben gegen den Gang der Empfindungen des Solospielers u. dgl. war keine Spur.  Im zweyten Theil der Symphonie wurden sie sogar so bequen, daß, alles Taktirens ungeachtet, kein Feuer mehr -- besonders in das Spiel der Blasinstrumente, zu bringen war.  Was hilft bey solchem Benehmen alle GEschicklichhkeit -- die man den meisten Mitgliedern dieser Gesellschaft im mindesten nicht absprechen will?  Welchen bedeutenden Effekt kann da, selbst die vortrefflichste Komposition machen? Wer erfindet und lehrt uns das große Zauberwort, das Konvenienzen, persönliche und andre kleinliche Rücksichten verjagt, und Leben, Geist und Feuer für die Kunst selbst einflößt?  Es kann seyn, daß es an vielen anderen großen Orten nicht besser ist; aber gerade wenn man überlegt, wie viel -- in jeder Rücksicht, wie sehr viel wir hier, in der riechen Kaiserstadt, bey so vil Musikliebe, bey so viel Geschicklichkeit, seyn könnten, wenn wir nur wahrhaftig wollten: so muß es Einem wehe thun, und man kann das Klagen und Wünschen und Beschuldigen derer, die Schuld haben, nicht lassen. --" (Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitschrift, Oktober 1800: 49 - 50).

-- "Finally, Herr Be e t h o v e n  received the theater, and this was truly the most interesting academy, for a long time.   He played a new concerto of his composition that has many beautiful parts--particularly the first two movements.  Then, a septet of his was given that is written with much taste and sensitivity.   Then he improvised masterfully, in which there was much art, novelty and wealth of ideas, only, the wind instruments were applied too much, so that it was more harmony than overall orchestra music.  Perhaps we could also create something good if we still reported of this academy the following.  The orchestra of the Italian opera displayed itself very much to its disadvantage.  First--arguments among the mangement!   B e e t h o v e n  rightfully believed that he could entrust the direction of this concert not to Herr  C o n t i, but rather to none other and better than Herr W r a n i t z k y.  Under him, the gentlemen did not want to play.  The above-admonished mistakes of this orchestra become all the more appatent since B's compositions are difficult to execute.  In their accompaniment, they did not take care to pay attention to the solo player; of delicatesse in accompaniment, of a following of the emotions of the solo player and the like, there was no trace.  In the second part of the symphony, they even became slack enough that, in spite of all direction, no fire--particularly in the wind instruments, could be gotten out of them.    Of what use is all skill--and this skill one does not want to deny most members of this ensemble--in light of such behavior?   What important effect can even the most excellent composition make under such conditions?  Who will invent and teach us the great magic word which will banish all conveniences, personal and other considerations and instills life, spirit and fire for art itself?  It may be the case that in other great centers, this will not be any better,  but when one considers how much more--in every respect, we could be here, in the rich imperial city with its love of music, with all of its skill, if we only truly wanted it:  thus one has to bemoan this situation and one can not fail to point the finger at those who are to blame for this and moan about it. -- 

Thayer reports that it is not clear which piano concerto Beethoven played at this occasion.  Although Beethoven's comments with respect to this concert have not been preserved, one can imagine that he may not have been entirely happy with the quality of the performance of this orchestra.  

The Further Fate of the Work up to its Publication

Both Thayer and Cooper point out that Beethoven added finishing touches to his First Symphony during the remainder of the year 1800, whereby Cooper speaks of  "significant structural alterations to the second movement" and of a thorough overhauling of the final movement  (Thayer: 265, Cooper: 92-93).  

While Beethoven offered his First Piano Concerto, his Piano and Wind Quintet, his Horn Sonata, and his Six String Quartets (Op. 18), thus his works with the opus number 15 - 18, to the Viennese music publisher Mollo, he carried on negotiations with the Leipzig music publisher Franz Anton Hofmeister, with respect to his works with the opus numbers 19 - 22 and offered him these on December 15, 1800:

"Wien, am 15. Dezember [1800]

Geliebtester Hr. Bruder!

Ich habe dero Anfragen schon mehrmalen beantworten wollen, bin aber in der Briefstellerei erschrecklich faul, und da steht's lange an, bis ich einmal statt Noten trockne Buchstaben schreibe; nun habe ich mich endlich einmal bezwungen, Dero Begehren Genüge zu leisten. --

Pro primo ist zu wissen, daß es mir sehr leid ist, [daß} Sie, mein geliebert Hr. Bruder in der Tonkunst, mir nicht eher etwas zu wissen gemacht haben, damit ich Ihnen meine Quartetten hätte zu Markt bringen können, sowie auch viele andere Sachen ... doch wenn der Hr. Bruder ebenso gewissenhaft sind, als manche andre ehrliche Stecher, die uns arme Komponisten zu Tod stechen, so werden Sie schon auch wissen, wenn sie herauskommen, Nutzen davon zu ziehen. -- Ich will in der Kürze also hersetzen, was der Hr. B[ruder] von mir haben können. 1. ein Septett ... 2. eine große Symphonie mit vollständigem Orchester. -- ..." (Schmidt, Beethoven=Briefe:  25),

--"Vienna, on the 15th of December [1800]

Most beloved Hr. Brother!

Several times, I had wanted to answer to your inquiries, however, in letter-writing, I am so terribly lazy, and it takes long until I, for once, write dry letters instead of musical notes; now, I have finally forced myself to satisfy your demands. --

First of all, one should know that I am sorry [that] you, my beloved Hr. brother in the art of notes, did not let me know anything beforehand, so that I could have brought my quartets to market through you, as well as many other things. ... However, if Hr. Brother is as conscientious as many other honest etchers who etch us poor composers to death, then you will know how to act to your best advantage. -- Here, I thus want to quickly list what Hr. B[rother] can have from me. 1. a septet ... 2. a great symphony with complete orchestra.--" --  

and on January 15th, 1801, Beethoven wrote:

"Wien, am 15ten (oder so etwas dergleichen) Jenner 1801.

Mit vielem Vergnügen, mein geliebtester Hr. Bruder und Freund, habe ich Ihren Brief gelesen, ich danke Ihnen recht herzlich für die gute Meinung, die Sie für mich und meine Werke gefaßt haben, und wünsche es mir recht verdienen zu können; auch dem Herrn K[ühnel] bitte ich meinen pflichtschuldigen Dank für seine gegen mich geäußerte Höflichkeit und Freundschaft abzustatten. --

Ihre Unternehmungen freuen mich ebenfalls und ich wünsche, daß wenn die Werke der Kunst Gewinn schaffen können, dieser doch viel lieber echten wahren Künstlern, als bloßen Krämern zuteil werde.

Daß Sie  S e b a s t i a n  B a c h s  Werke herausgeben wollen, ist etwas, was meinem Herzen, das ganz für die hohe große Kunst dieses Urvaters der Harmonie schlägt, recht wohltut und ich bald in vollem Laufe zu sehen wünsche; ich hoffe von hier aus, sobald wir den goldenen Frieden verkündigt werden hören, selbst manches dazu beizutragen, sobald Sie drauf Pränumeration nehmen. 

Was nun unsere eigentlichen Geschäfte anbelangt, weil Sie es nun so wollen, so sei Ihnen hiermit gedient; für jetzt trage ich Ihnen folgende Sachen an:  Septett ... 20 Duk., Sinfonie 20 Duk., Konzert 10 Duk., große Solosonate Allegro, Adagio, Minuetto, Rondo 20 Duk. ... " (Ludwig van Beethovens sämtliche Briefe: 35-36). --

-- "Vienna, on the 15th (or thereabouts) January 1801.

With great pleasure, my most beloved Hr. Brother and friend, have I read your letter, and I thank you very sincerely for the good opinion that you have formed of my works, and I wish that I earn it; also to Herr K[ühnel], I wish to convey my dutiful thanks for his kind and polite words that he has found for me. --  

I am delighted about your endeavors, as well, and I wish that, if works of art can create gain, this gain should be made b true artists and not by mere merchants.  

That you can to publish S e b a s t i a n  B a c h ' s  works is somehting that does my heart, which wholly beats for the great art of this father of harmony, good and which I wish to see in full progress, very soon, and I hope that from here, as soon as the golden peace will be pronounced, I will be able to contribute something as soon as you take prenumeration from it.  

As far as our actual business is concerned, as you wish it, after all, let me serve you thus; for now, I offer you the following things: Septet ... 20 Duc., Sinphony 20 Duc., Concerto 10 Duc., grand Solo Sonata,  Allegro, Adagio, Minuetto, Rondo 20 Duc. ... "

However, during the next period, Beethoven was very busy with his work on his Prometheus ballet, and, on the other hand, he was also under the weather, health-wise, so that he replied to Hofmeister's impatient reminders as follows, on April 22:  

"Wien, 22. Apr. 1801.

Sie haben Ursache über mich zu klagen, und das nicht wenig.  Meine Entschuldigung besteht darin, daß ich krank war und dabei noch obendrein sehr viel zu tun hatte, so daß es mir kaum möglich war auch nur darauf zu denken, was ich Ihnen zu schicken hatte; dabei ist es vielleicht das einzige Geniemäßige, was an mir ist, daß meine Sachen sich nicht immer in der besten Ordnung befinden und doch niemand imstande ist als ich selbst, da zu helfen.  So z.B. war zu dem Konzerte in der Partitur die Klavierstimme meiner Gewohnheit nach nicht geschrieben, und ich schrieb sie erst jetzt, daher Sie dieselbe wegen Beschleunigung von meiner eigenen, nicht gar zu lesbaren Handschrift erhalten.

Um soviel als möglich die Werke in der gehörigen Ordnung folgen zu lassen, merke ich Ihnen an, daß Sie

            auf die Solosonate  .   .  Op. 22

            auf die Symphonie  .   .   Op. 21

            auf das Septett         .  .   Op. 20

            auf das Konzert        .   .  Op. 19

setzen mögen lassen. Die Titeln werde ich Ihnen nächstens nachschicken. . . .  " (Ludwig van Beethovens sämtlliche Briefe: 38 -39). --

-- Vienna, the 22nd of Apr., 1801.

You have reason to complain about me, and that not too little.  My excuse is that I was ill and that I, on top of it, had a lot to do, so that I was hardly able to even think of what I should send you; this might be the only genius-like trait that is in me, that I can not always find my things in best order and, yet, that no-one else but I am able to help in this respect.  Thus, for example, for the concerto, in the score, the piano part was not written out as I am used to it, and I just wrote it now, for which reason you receive it, for reasons of expedience, written my my own, non too legible hand.  

In order to allow for the works to follow in as much of the required order, I note that you can note for 

            the Solo Sonata       .   .  Op. 22

            the Symphony           .   .  Op. 21

            the Septet                  .  .   Op. 20

            the Concerto              .   .  Op. 19.

I will also send you the titles, fairly soon."  

According to Cooper, Beethoven sent off all four works  offered to Hofmeister in April and had asked Hofmeister for their publication in the very near future (Cooper: 105).

Thayer reports that also in June, Beethoven wrote to Hofmeister:


Maximilian Franz

"Wien, Juni 1801.

. . .  Hier folgen die längst versprochenen Titel von meinen Werken -- -- -- 

An den Titeln wird noch manches zu ändern oder zu verbessern sein, das überlasse ich Ihnen.  Nächstens erwarte ich von Ihnen ein Schreiben und auch bald nun die Werke, welche ich wünsche gestochen zu sehen, indem andere schon herausgekommen und kommen, welche sich auf diese Nummern beziehen. . . .  " (Ludwig van Beethovens sämltiche Briefe: 44-45). --

"Vienna, June 1801.

...  Here follow the titles of my works that I had promised along time ago -- -- --

With respect to the titles, this and that may have to be changed or improved, I leave that to you.  Next, I expect a letter from you and also the works which I wish to see etched, in that others have already been published and are already being published, that relate to these numbers. . . ."

Thayer reports that Beethoven originally intended to dedicate this work to his former Bonn employer, Elector Maximilian Franz; however, the latter's illness and eath in this year (on July 26, 1801) made it necessary for him to find another dedicatee, for which he chose Baron van Swieten (Thayer: 288).

Readers of our Online Biography might recall that Beethoven, during this month, namely on June 1st (to Carl Friedrich Amenda in Courland) and on June 20th (to Franz Gerhard Wegeler in the Rhineland), wrote letters to his friends in which he mentioned his hearing loss for the first time and that he asked them to keep this information a secret.  

Before the publication of the First Symphony, namely in November 1801, in his letter to Wegeler, Beethoven referred to his slightly improved situation and refers to his acquaintance with a "lieben, zauberischen Mädchen" (dear, enchanting girl, perhaps Giulietta Guicciardi?).

Cooper reports that all four works were published by Hofmeister & Kühnel in Leipzig in  December 1801, which Thayer confirms with his remark that the Frist Symphony was published before the end of the year 1801.  


On the Further Fate of the Work during Beethoven's Lifetime

In Vienna, the First Symphony was performed on the following occasion:

"Around the beginning of 1803 Beethoven was appointed as composer at the Theater an der Wien, the main independent theatre in Vienna, where the directorate, led by Emanuel Schikaneder (librettist of The Magic Flute) wanted him to write an opera.  The immediate advantages were that he was able to take rooms at the theatre, along with his brother Carl, and to plan for a benefit concert there.  In 1802, when he had hoped for such a concert at one of the Imperial theatres, Baron Braun had allocated the theatre to other artists, but the Theater an der Wien could be relied on to support its own composers, and Beethoven duly staged his concert on Tuesday 5 April 1803.

Unlike in his 1800 concert all the works were his own:  the First and Second Symphonies, the Third Piano Concerto, and Christus.  All of these except the First Symphony were receiving their first performance" (Cooper:  124).

This is confirmed by the following brief report in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung:

"Beethoven und Abt Vogler komponiren jeder eine Oper für das Theater an der Wien. Im Theater wird in der Charwoche eine Kantate von Beethoven zu seinem Benefiz gegeben. Ueber alles dies nächstens" (AMZ, März 1803: 438).

-- "Beethoven and Abbe Vogler both are to compose an opera for the Theater an der Wien.  During Holy Week, a cantata by Beethoven will be performed for his benefit, in the theatre.  On this more, soon."

In April 1803, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in Leipzig reports from Vienna:

"Wien.  Am 29sten März starb Gottfried Baron v. Swieten an einem Kopffieber im 70sten Jahre.  An ihm verliert die Tonkunst einen bedeutenden Mäcen, und die Welt einen bidern und loyalen Mann.  Er war der eigentliche Stifer der aus 24 Mitglieder des ersten Adels bestehenden musikalischen Gesellschaft, welche es sich zur Pflicht machte, den Geschmack an den Werken der grössten Meister zu vertreiten.  Swieten hing an keiner Schule und Sekte, jedes wahre Talent war ihm willkommen, doch waren Händel, Sebastian Bach, Mozart und Haydn seine Lieblinge, mit denen er sich fast täglich beschäftigte.  Möchte hier unter den höheren Ständen bald ein Mann auftreten, der sich der Tonkunst eben so thätig annähme, wie Swieten!" (AMZ April 1803: 476)

-- "Vienna.  On March 29th, Baron Gottfried v. Swieten died of a head fever, in his 70th year. In him, the art of music loses an important patron, and the world a jovial and loyal man.  He was the actual founder of the Musical Society that consists of 24 members of the first nobility, which has made it its duty to promote interest in the works of the greatest masters. Swieten was not part of any school or sect, every true talent was welcome to him.  However, Handel, Sebastian Bach, Mozart and Haydn were his favorites, with whom he dealt almost daily.  May the higher social ranks bring forth another man, soon, who will be as active a furtherer of the art of music as Swieten!" -- 

Cooper further reports that Beethoven's Third Symphony, the Eroica, together with his First Symphony, wase performed in a semi-public concert in Vienna in February, 1804  (Cooper: 148).

After the publication of the First Symphony in Leipzig by Hofmeister and Kühnel, this work was also successful in other centers.  Thus, Thayer reports that the Leipzig Gewandhaus added it to its repertoire soon after its publication, and that, in the years 1801 - 1804, it was staged repeatedly in  n Berlin, Breslau, Frankfurt-am-Main, Dresden, Braunschweig and Munich (Thayer: 361).  

Moreover, Beethoven's first three symphonies, together with his Coriolan Overture, and his Fourth Piano Concerto and excerpts from Leonore are reported as having been performed in a private performance in March, 1807 (Cooper: 165). 

Cooper reports that Beethoven, during his work on his so-called  'Hammerklavier'-Sonate (thus in the year 1818) also began with his work on his Ninth Symphony and that, in doing so, he faced the same difficulties as he did when he began working on his 'First' symphony during the years 1795 - 1796  (Cooper: 264).  

At about this time, Beethoven had also begun to converse with his visitors by means of his conversation books.  

With respect to the year 1820, Thayer reports that:  

"Now Herr Gebauer makes the proposal to form a special society of a moderate number to bring to performance only symphonies and choruses excluding all virtuoso music .. and bravura singing. ... In the 18 concerts of the first season (1819/20) were performed Beethoven's first four symphonies" (Thayer: 771, 1820).

As last report with respect to the fate of the First Symphony during Beethoven's life time, Thayer refers to Simrock's ediition of the scores to Beethoven's First to Third Symphonies in the year 1822  (Thayer: 817).

Before we turn to the creation history of the Second Symphony, I would like to provide you with an opportunity to listen to a very lively rehearsal of this work by Raphael Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.  The history section of the web site of this orchestra offers a listening sample of it (accessible with the Real Player).  Please use the back button of your browser to return here. 

To the listening Sample on the Web site of the Bavarian Radio  Symphony Orchestra, in the section on Raphael Kubelik (Timeline: 1961)

Closing Remarks  

With respect to Beethoven's further development as symphonic composer, let us turn to the creation history of the Second Symphony.


Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung Leipzig bey Breitkopf und Härtel. Reprint AMSTERDAM. N. Israel - Frits A. M. Knuf. MCMLXIV.

Beethoven-Briefe. Ausgewählt und herausgegeben von Dr. Leopold Schmidt. Berlin: 1922. Volksverband der Bücherfreunde. Wegweiser-Verlag G.m.b.H.

Cooper, Barry. Beethoven. The Master Musicians. New York: 2000. Oxford University Press.

Ludwig van Beethovens sämtliche Briefe. Herausgegeben von Emerich Kastner. Nachdruck der völlig umbearbeiteten und wesentlich vermehrten Neuausgabe von Dr. Julius Knapp. Tutzing: 1975. Verlegt bei Hans Schneider.

Thayer's Life of Beethoven. Revised and Edited by Elliot Forbes. Princeton, New Jersey: 1967. Princeton University Press.

To the Creation History of the Second Symphony